New Age Cheating in College Athletics
Long gone are the days when a very talented running back from Sealy, Texas, showed up on the campus of Southern Methodist University in a spanking brand new 1979 Pontiac Trans Am, compliments of a rival university that thought it had secured his services for the next four years.
A recruit visiting “Big Campus University” with two nickels in his pocket, yet returning with enough cash to pay off mom and dad’s balance on the mortgage has gone by the wayside. A “quick twitch” defensive back who took public transportation to school suddenly parking a $30,000 sports car in the students’ parking lot on National Signing Day is a thing of the past.
Cheating to secure the services of a physically-gifted lad has moved into the new age. The guy standing on a leaning porch of a home nestled in rural Mississippi with a satchel of cash trying to lure Marcus Dupree to their Big Eight Conference school has bypassed us. The paper trail that leads to the possibilities of a National Collegiate Athletic Association-sanctioned ‘Death Penalty’ has made the obvious financial agreement between university and athlete just a tad more discreet these days.
In 2010, ESPN ran an episode of its ‘30 for 30’ info-doc titled Pony Excess, detailing the happenings with the once-powerful football program of the aforementioned Southern Methodist University. The very thrilling piece went in depth about the many rampant forms of cheating the private school in Dallas made a blatant practice of from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s that resulted in a banning of the football program by the NCAA for two years back in 1987.
The money spent by the many rich alums to assure football superiority reached astounding numbers for the times. Jokingly former SMU great Eric Dickerson, the Sealy native who was given the Trans Am, once said that when he was drafted No. 2 overall in the 1983 National Football League Draft and signed his contract, he took a significant pay cut from the money the deep-pocketed, oil-tycoon boosters at SMU were depositing into his alias account.
The penalty which was levied against the Mustangs was considered harsh in the world of college athletics. After all, SMU was just the chosen sacrificial lamb to which an example was made of for others to take heed. SMU wasn’t in that game alone. They were just the best at it. Within the state alone, the “heavyweights” like Texas A&M University and the University of Texas were both standing on those leaning rickety porches with their very own satchels of money and promises of financial relief for the family. Their bags were just a little lighter in weight than SMU’s.
With the recent passing of what I call college football’s “Christmas Day,” National Signing Day, I am led to wonder if the ‘dual threat’ quarterback ranked among the country’s finest young players got a new Dodge Challenger from a “rich uncle” like the players all said they got their spanking new 300 Zs over 30 years ago. My mind quickly drifted to the huge, yet nimble footed “two-technique” defensive tackle ranked No. 5 on a respected recruiting database source. Was the home he was raised in by his grandmother magically paid off? Was that Southeastern Conference power whom he inked a letter of intent to making a monthly stipend deposit into his alias Bank of America account now like they did with prized recruits during the Reagan administration?
When the “Pony Express” was running to a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press poll of the 1982 season, not much thought was given to just how was the school on the ‘Hilltop’ able to nab the two most gifted runners in the state of Texas in Dickerson and Craig James just four years earlier. Maybe if that happened today through the annuals of social media we would have been able to see updated posts of the sudden change in lifestyle they would be displaying for the world to see. Just maybe Dickerson would have been posting a selfie with his satchel full of $100 bills. Maybe Houston Stratford grad James would have posted pictures of the new home his divorced mother suddenly accrued the funds to purchase. We would have a look into the seedy world of college football’s worst kept secret.
With all the new technological ways to go about daily life these days, cheating has become a covert-like operation to obtain the signature of a rangy 6-foot, 4-inch receiver with great hands to campus. We still have the “atta boy” handshakes from a booster that affords the well deserving player money to take out a cute co-ed that he otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.
There hasn’t been another penalty levied against a program like what was done to SMU. That doesn’t mean that the world of college football has suddenly been taken over by a slew of choir boys somehow deciding to follow the strict rules of the NCAA. There is a reason why the same teams keep appearing in college football’s title games. That reason being that they all are still cheating. Cheating their way to national championships. Good luck uncovering some of the ways they have become so skilled at doing it.
The summer job program set up between prestigious schools and their wealthy alumni base, those who just so happen to own businesses that would use the strong backs of a bunch of 20 year olds. Not a bad idea to put these young men to work in their down time to put some money in their pockets. However, when the athlete never shows up for work for the company, but still gets paid more than the highest tenured employee, a problem occurs.
One athlete, a former standout basketball player in this case, personally told me of the “job” at a video store that he never clocked into as an incoming freshman, but somehow had a check to pick up every Friday for $2,000. As I assess that concept, convincing anyone, nevertheless the probing NCAA that any employee checking out movies to patrons to the tune of $2,000 a week is preposterous. That’s a lot of overtime worked at the then minimum wage rate of $4.25 per hour.
Another tactic being used by big schools are the “Campus Friend” method as I call it. This practice is done by funneling in a money flow of cash to a fellow student of the university, who in turn hands over the money/gifts to the intended athlete. Generally this one person is closely associated with the athletic program. Since this student would have no ties to the athletic program by way of documented roles, a violation of NCAA rules can be skirted if somehow this was uncovered.
In many cases, the cheating in college athletics isn’t necessarily the doings of those directly related to the program. A proud booster who is tired of the ridicule from his golf buddies about his alma mater’s 2-9 record is sometimes the culprit in these cheating schemes. Nothing like walking up to the first green in your burnt orange of the University of Texas the second weekend in October, fresh off a victory over your “tee time” friends who are donning their crimson and cream colors of the Oklahoma Sooners after a victory in the Red River Shoot Out. That elated feeling sometimes comes at a cost to these boosters, most of whom are glad to fund these victories for their country club bragging rights. Forking over $35,000 for a new loaded Dodge Challenger to a run stopping middle linebacker prospect is worth every penny to them.
Boosters are known in the past to host lavish parties and invite over athletes to partake in the festivities. During these events, the “$100 handshake” can be seen often. For those unfamiliar with this display of acknowledgement, here is how this greeting is executed:
Big rival game. Down by five points. Receiver catches a touchdown to win the game.
Later that night the receiver is invited by a pretty co-ed in most cases to a classy establishment to mingle amongst many former ABC University (fictional college) alums. The athlete then makes his way through a sea of tailored suits, most who introduce themselves and then extend a hand in the gesture to give the standard handshake that we all have come to do on a daily basis. The difference in me shaking my neighbor’s hand and then pulling back an empty palm, the receiver pulls his back with one or more crispy “C-Notes” in hand is obvious. If he shakes enough hands of the rich alumni, he will be able to walk away with enough money to pay for the gas to go into the Ford Mustang he got when he signed with the school for the remainder of the school year.
The vice that most young men have is young beautiful women. With raging hormones that we all had when we were 18 or 19 has been played upon by schools as well. When recruits take their weekend visits to their top five choices, more than just the stadium layout and student center are viewed by the prospect. By night fall, the weekend getaway usually will include more than the school has on campus to see. With the guidance of an upperclassman on the team, the recruit will accompany him to a series of parties thrown near the campus or in some of the fraternity houses. What a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed mama’s boy may see is a young woman or women he may have dreamed about at some point. Beautiful beyond measures, wanting and vying for his attention. He may have been attending school with a bunch of 5s, but now he has a couple of 10s on each shoulder. Both promising that if he decided to sign with that particular school, the elation he is in store for will be the norm once he hits campus in the fall.
Little does the recruit know that the party was prearranged by someone in the program. Those cute co-eds were both students of the university or hired exotic dancers from the local topless establishment. All were paid to help convince the athlete to come to that particular college.
The University of Louisville’s basketball program just recently underwent tons of scrutiny with the coming out of five former players and recruits about the payments to strippers for an exchange of sex with the athletes by a former graduate assistant coach. While the school itself banned the team from post-season action, no heavy sanction has yet to be levied by NCAA against Louisville’s basketball program. Something like this seems to often get swept under the rug when a highly successful coach like Rick Pitino is associated with the program.
It often is assumed that a college program recruits players based on their winning track record and great academic standards. Why else would a kid from North Dakota be attending school in Georgia? Paying him had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to travel that far for his education. The fact the he has a new truck given to him that is valued more than the house in which he was raised has nothing to do with it for sure, right? The saying of “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” must be the intellectual property of some former Big Ten coach looking to justify why he had a booster send large sums of cash to a quarterback he just had to have to run his “Veer Offense.” In all actuality, cheating is accepted by most college football supporters. They really find it easier to accept when their own team has out-bid the school down the road for a hot commodity recruit.
Eric Dickerson drove his free Trans Am, compliments of the school down in College Station, around campus for a couple years until an upgrade was provided by some appreciative booster. I would venture to say that not one of the top 100 listed athletes on that recruiting database got a new Trans Am on the morning of signing day. Not even the more modern Dodge Challenger was received by any as well. That doesn’t mean that any of them are walking to school today either.
Cheating in college athletics still is prevalent throughout. Though more discreteness is practiced today, cheating itself hasn’t ceased. They have just found new ways of doing it besides standing on a leaning porch in rural America with a bag full of money.